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By John Parke
During my journey into grappling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I have come across several principles and pieces of advice which have greatly accelerated my progress. I often find myself wondering just how much further ahead I would be today if I had known of them at the start of my training. It is for this reason that I try to ensure that the beginners I teach and my private clients are aware of them at the start of their grappling careers. The tips below are the ones I feel are most significant for the beginner.
Prepare your body for training
No matter what anybody tells you, you need a certain basal level of strength and fitness to get the most out of jiu-jitsu. You do not play sports to get fit - you get fit to play sports. The fitter you are, the more relaxed you will be during the sparring segment of your classes and therefore the more your mind will be able to absorb. A good level of cardiovascular fitness will speed up your recovery between sparring matches and between training sessions themselves. Resistance training and the increased muscle hypertrophy and joint strength it brings will go a long way in the prevention of jiu-jitsu related injuries.
Contrary to popular belief, an expensive gym membership and a bunch of machines and equipment are not a necessary requirement for getting fit. All you need is your own body, a small space and a degree of willpower. I will be including sample workouts in future posts to this blog.
Leave your ego at the door
Your ego can be a great (if not the greatest) hindrance to your progress as a grappler. As a beginner you will tap often. Nobody likes to submit in front of the other students and spectators at their academy. Acknowledge that it is your ego that causes this discomfort and then do everything you can to overcome it. Accept the fact that you will be dominated and beaten regularly during the initial stages of your training and embrace it as part of the process. The time will come when you are the one causing the others to submit, but before then you will need to pay your dues. But remember that you should not be doing jiu-jitsu to learn to dominate people and prove that you are the toughest guy around. You should be doing it to learn about yourself.
Try this as an exercise in gaining control of your ego: Make it your mission to be tapped fifteen times at your next class. Bizarrely, this will actually make you a better fighter. Firstly, because you will come to not fear tapping anymore, you will begin to relax alot more during your sparring. As we know, there is direct correlation between how relaxed you are and how quickly you will learn. Secondly, by letting opponents put you in compromising situations and submissions you will quickly become familiar with them. This familiarity will ensure that you are more composed and hence more likely to escape if and when you are faced with these situations during competition.
Focus on the basics
When you begin training it may be overwhelming trying to memorize and incorporate all the techniques you learn into your game. There is something you must understand and that is that you do not need a thousand different moves to be good at jiu-jitsu. There are so many grapplers out there who can demonstrate hundreds and hundreds of techniques as well as the counters to them and even the re-counters to those. Most of these guys cannot put even a fraction of this technical knowledge into practice against a resisting and determined opponent. A technique only becomes a skill once you can use it successfully in a fight. As Bruce Lee said, "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times." Replace 'kicks' with 'armlocks' or 'chokes' and the same holds true for grappling.
After 8 years of training I still find myself coming back to the most basic movements and techniques and trying to refine and tweak them to reflexive proficiency. As a beginner you should take a handful of simple things and work on them until they are part of you. Focus on the high percentage, fundamental moves such as the snake/shrimping motion and the bridge. This will ensure that you lay a solid foundation for your entire game.
Work on the things you find difficult
After many years of training it will be more difficult to break bad habits and correct weakness you have developed. If you are intelligent, you will not allow the these negative tendencies to take hold when you start training.
Overspecialisation breeds weakness. If you are someone who loves to fight from the top and has no bottom game, sooner or later in class or competition you will meet someone who you cannot dominate from the top and your lack of ability on the bottom will cost you.
If something is difficult for you, make it your focus. For example, if you hate playing from the guard, make it your number one priority during training. Try to get your opponent into your guard whenever possible and work from there. If you are diligent and can accept that you will have your guard passed many times in the beginning (leave your ego at the door), soon your guard will become strong. This applies to all positions and techniques.
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